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McCain seeks to close 'revolving door' in Washington
Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Federal government officials who go to work for tribes will no longer be able to lobby their former employer for a year under a bill introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) on Monday.

As chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, McCain has raised several concerns about the lobbying practices of tribes and their backers. During hearings on the Jack Abramoff scandal and on the $19 billion Indian gaming industry, he said he would seek ways to reform the system to prevent "abuses" and fraud.

S.1312, the Reducing Conflicts of Interests in the Representation of Indian Tribes Act, aims to close what McCain called the "revolving door" in Washington. He said ex-government employees are exploiting a loophole in federal law that allows them to lobby federal agencies on behalf of tribes without being subject to the cooling-off period imposed on non-tribal lobbyists.

"Current law exempts from the conflicts laws former federal officers and employees who 'are employed by Indian tribes,' thus permitting these former Federal employees immediately to lobby the departments they just left and act as agents and attorneys for the tribes," McCain said in his statement accompanying the bill.

"Former federal employees who leave the federal government and go to work as outside lawyers or lobbyists for Indian tribes, however, would, under the legislation I am introducing today, be subject to the same conflicts of interest restraints that apply to other former federal employees who work for other entities," added McCain.

The bill would apply to former Bush administration official Aurene Martin, the former principal deputy assistant secretary. She left the Bureau of Indian Affairs in September 2004 and immediately went to work for a large law and lobbying firm in Washington, where she represents tribes with matters before the agency.

The bill would also appear to apply to former Clinton administration official Kevin Gover, who left his job as assistant secretary in January 2001 to work for a law and lobbying firm. Although he no longer works at the firm, he is employed as a consultant by a tribe that he placed on the federally recognized list in one his final actions.

But, as McCain clarified, former federal employees who go to work for tribes "pursuant to self-determination contracts or self-governance compacts" would not be affected. He said they would continued to be covered by existing law.

"The exception that was made to the conflict laws appeared to have been made in response to the recognition that when Indian tribes took on the responsibility of operating programs traditionally fulfilled by the federal government, they would need experienced individuals to fulfill contracted or compacted functions," McCain said.

In recent years, Interior Department Inspector General Earl E. Devaney has investigated contacts former employees made with the BIA. While he hasn't uncovered anything illegal, he said he is concerned that lobbying will taint the agency's processes.

"My greatest fear is not that the integrity or accountability of Indian gaming will be compromised from inside the actual casinos, but rather by the horde of paid management advisors, consultants, lobbyists and financiers flocking to get a piece of the enormous amount of revenues being generated by Indian gaming," he said at an April 27 hearing.

But tribal lobbying isn't the only concern facing Devaney. His office investigated contacts that former Bush administration officials J. Steven Griles and Bill Myers, two former lobbyists for the mining, grazing and cattle industries, had with former clients or people connected to their clients. Devaney reported no wrongdoing in both cases.

Yet Devaney's office is now including in its investigations "an inquiry into any lobbying or other financial influences that might bear on the issue or program at hand," deputy Mary L. Kendall said at a May 11 hearing.

McCain's bill was referred to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, where it will be considered at a business meeting tomorrow.

The substance of the bill removes subsection (j) of Section 104 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 450i) and replaces it with:
Notwithstanding sections 205 and 207 of title 18, United States Code, an officer or employee of the United States assigned to an Indian tribe under section 3372 of title 5, United States Code, or section 2072 of the Revised Statutes (25 U.S.C. 48), or an individual that was formerly an officer or employee of the United States and who is an employee of an Indian tribe employed to perform services pursuant to self-governance contracts or compacts under this Act that the individual formerly performed for the United States, may communicate with and appear before any department, agency, court, or commission on behalf of the Indian tribe with respect to any matter relating to the contract or compact, including any matter in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.

Subsection (j) currently reads:
Anything in sections 205 and 207 of title 18 to the contrary notwithstanding, officers and employees of the United States assigned to an Indian tribe as authorized under section 3372 of title 5, or section 48 of this title and former officers and employees of the United States employed by Indian tribes may act as agents or attorneys for or appear on behalf of such tribes in connection with any matter pending before any department, agency, court, or commission, including any matter in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest: Provided, That each such officer or employee or former officer or employee must advise in writing the head of the department, agency, court, or commission with which he is dealing or appearing on behalf of the tribe of any personal and substantial involvement he may have had as an officer or employee of the United States in connection with the matter involved.

Get the Bill:
Reducing Conflicts of Interests in the Representation of Indian Tribes Act (S.1312)

Statement on Bill:
Sen. John McCain on S.1312 (June 27, 2005)

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Familiar problems aired at recognition hearing (05/12)
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